Survival

TWINS’ HORROR: Separated at birth for a CRUEL experiment

For 23 years, they felt like a part of them was missing...
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When Ellen Carbone was growing up, she used to fantasise about having a sister. Not just a sister – a twin sister, who knew her better than anyone else and with whom she could share all her secrets. 

She’d even talk to her imaginary twin as though she was really there.

But as an adopted only child, Ellen knew her longing for that sibling bond would always be a dream.

Melanie Mertzel also had a preoccupation with twins, despite having two siblings within her adoptive family.

‘Doesn’t everyone want to (have a) twin?’ she’d ask her friends growing up.

‘No,’ they would tell her.

But, as unlikely as it may seem, after spending the first 23 years of their lives pining for something they thought they could never really have, Ellen and Melanie’s wishes were about to come true.

Melanie was working in her parents’ pancake restaurant when a lady came in for a meal and mistook Melanie for her niece.

‘She saw me and couldn’t understand why I didn’t recognise her,’ Melanie told 60 Minutes.

Ellen Carbone and Melanie Mertzel
Ellen Carbone and Melanie Mertzel. (Credit: 60 Minutes)

The woman asked Melanie if she was adopted.

Not wanting to divulge such personal information to a complete stranger, Melanie said no.

Unable to shake her suspicions, the lady returned two weeks later, this time armed with a photo of her niece Ellen.

The resemblance was amazing.

That night, Melanie called Ellen, and when she heard her voice, she couldn’t believe it.

‘Oh my God. You sound just like me,’ she said.

There was no denying it – Ellen and Melanie were identical twins.

When the women finally came face to face, they were stunned – Ellen is right-handed while Melanie is left-handed, and Ellen has a dimple on her left cheek and Melanie on her right.

They were truly mirror images of each other.

‘What I’ve always dreamed of and wanted is a reality,’ Ellen said.

Early photographs reveal how similar the girls were.
Early photographs reveal how similar the girls were.

Unbeknown to their biological mother, when the twins were adopted out soon after their birth in May 1966 by Jewish adoption agency Louise Wise Services in New York, they were separated.

Their adoptive parents were also never informed that the babies they took home were one of a pair.

When Ellen and Melanie started looking into the reason they were separated, the women were shocked and angry to discover they were ripped apart in the name of science.

Led by psychiatrist Dr Peter Neubauer, Ellen and Melanie were part of a cruel nature versus nurture experiment.

Dr Peter Neubauer
Dr Peter Neubauer.

Both twins recall people regularly coming to their homes throughout their childhood to record how they were progressing physically, emotionally and academically.

Their parents were told it was a developmental study so were happy to comply, but now they realised Dr Neubauer wanted to find out if identical twins would still develop similarly even if they were raised in different environments.

At least three other sets of twins adopted through the Louise Wise agency were also separated in the same experiment, as well as identical triplets Robert Shafran, Eddy Galland and David Kellman.

The triplets.
The triplets.

Just like Ellen and Melanie, the triplets had accidentally stumbled across each other when they were 18-year-old students, each oblivious to the others’ existence before that.
But unlike the triplets, Ellen and Melanie, now 54, found that missing their formative years together meant the bonding process didn’t come naturally.

‘He robbed us of our childhood,’ Ellen says of Dr Neubauer.

‘He robbed us of our closeness. He took away something from us that we will never, ever, ever experience.’

Adding insult to injury, in 1990, Dr Neubauer had the study sealed and stored at Yale University, with instructions that it not be made public until 2065.

The research was never printed, infuriating Ellen, Melanie and all the families who unwittingly took part in the experiment and believe they have a right to their own stories.

hen Dr Neubauer died in 2008, Ellen and Melanie’s quest for answers became even more hopeless.

Even when limited documents were eventually released to the families, the notes were so heavily redacted it was impossible to make sense of them.

Although Ellen and Melanie are thankful to be back in each other’s lives, the loss of what could have been will be something they mourn forever.

The sisters have worked hard at making up lost time.
The sisters have worked hard at making up lost time. (Credit: Facebook)

‘She should’ve been the closest person to me in the world,’ Melanie says of Ellen. ‘And she wasn’t.’

‘We were human guinea pigs,’ adds Ellen. ‘We were treated not like humans, but like animals.’

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